Tuesday, February 28, 2006

we must keep the wealthy at home

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | For the sake of the world's poor, we must keep the wealthy at home: We all know the damage aviation does, but the government and the airlines want to turn the country into Airstrip One

"Last week the Guardian obtained a leaked copy of a draft treaty between the European Union and the US that would prevent us from taking any measure to reduce the environmental impact of airlines without the approval of the US government. This, though it might be the widest ranging, is not the first such agreement; the 1944 Chicago convention, now supported by 4,000 bilateral treaties, rules that no government may levy tax on aviation fuel.

Orwell's most accurate prediction in 1984 was the mutation of Britain into Airstrip One.

The burning of aircraft fuel has a "radiative forcing ratio" of around 2.7; what this means is that the total warming effect of aircraft emissions is 2.7 times as great as the effect of the carbon dioxide alone. The water vapour they produce forms ice crystals in the upper troposphere (vapour trails and cirrus clouds) that trap the earth's heat. According to calculations by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, if you added the two effects together (it urges some caution as they are not directly comparable), aviation emissions alone would exceed the government's target for the country's entire output of greenhouse gases in 2050 by around 134%. The government has an effective means of dealing with this. It excludes international aircraft emissions from the target.

Despite the claims made for the democratising effects of cheap travel, 75% of those who use budget airlines are in social classes A, B and C. People with second homes abroad average six return flights a year, while people in classes D and E hardly fly; they can't afford the holidays, so are responsible for just 6% of flights. Most of the growth, the government envisages, will take place among the wealthiest 10%. But the people who are being hit first and will be hit hardest by climate change are among the poorest on earth. Already the droughts in Ethiopia, putting millions at risk of starvation, are being linked to the warming of the Indian Ocean. Some 92 million Bangladeshis could be driven out of their homes this century in order that we can still go shopping in New York.

Flying kills. We all know it, and we all do it. And we won't stop doing it until the government reverses its policy and starts closing the runways."

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